John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997), better known as Townes Van Zandt, was an American singer-songwriter.
He wrote numerous songs, such as "Pancho and Lefty", "For the Sake of the Song", "Tecumseh Valley", "Rex's Blues", and "To Live Is to Fly", that are widely considered masterpieces of American folk music.
His musical style has often been described as melancholy and features rich, poetic lyrics.
During his early years, Van Zandt was respected for his guitar playing and fingerpicking ability.
In 1983, six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song "Pancho and Lefty", reaching number one on the Billboard country music chart.
Much of Van Zandt's life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms and backwood cabins.
For much of the 1970s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a phone.
His influence has been cited by countless artists across multiple genres, and his music has been recorded or performed by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Counting Crows, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen Jr., Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Wade Bowen, Gillian Welch, Pat Green, Colter Wall, Jason Isbell, Calvin Russell, Natalie Maines, and Frank Turner.
He suffered from a series of drug addictions, alcoholism, and was given a psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
When he was young, the now-discredited insulin shock therapy erased much of his long-term memory.Van Zandt died on New Years Day 1997 from cardiac arrythmia caused by health problems stemming from years of substance abuse.
A revival of interest in Van Zandt occurred in the 2000s.
During the decade, two books, a documentary film (Be Here to Love Me), and numerous magazine articles about the singer were written.